A subdomain is a domain associated with a root domain (or a master domain) that can direct browser requests to specific files on a particular server.
You are currently looking at files on LarryLudwig.com – but more specifically, you are looking at files on LarryLudwig.com root domain (note no www. in my URL). Even though I’m using a subdomain of my membership area members.LarryLudwig.com.
By analogy, if a domain is like a physical address, but on the Internet, a subdomain is like a suite or apartment number. Like the booth number, they only make sense as part of the larger address, but they allow visitors to reach a more specific (and usually different) location.
That’s the short version, but there’s more to subdomains than just definition and measurement.
What is a subdomain?
The subdomain is the leftmost part of the URL before the domain name. The subdomain and domain name are separated by a period.
As I wrote in What is the domain name, the Internet is nothing but a collection of devices connected to IP addresses (usually a string of numbers like 192.168.0.1). Not only are IP addresses difficult to remember, but they change often.
A domain name is a great way to provide a memorable way to locate your information on the Internet. It’s easier to say your website is on LarryLudwig.com Who remembered the IP address 22.214.171.124.
But what if you have several Different The internet applications you want all live on your domain name? This is where subdomains come in.
Subdomains always come before the root domain and before the top-level domain (TLD). for this site, LarryLudwig.com:
- Larry Ludwig is the root domain
- com It is a top level domain
A subdomain is part of the root domain. You can “point” different subdomains via DNS to completely different server locations.
You can have an infinite number of subdomains and even subdomains with whatever domain name you own.
A website also cannot have a subdomain like this website. If you only see https://website.com (Note that there is nothing in between https:// and website) – you are on a website without a subdomain.
This is how companies can get their website on LarryLudwig.com and their customer portal at app.LarryLudwig.com and their blog at blog.LarryLudwig.com – These resources are all in LarryLudwig.com…but all in different server locations.
What is the subdomain used for?
A subdomain is used to provide different resources all under one domain name, but usually, the resources need to be on a different server.
Since a domain can have an infinite number of subdomains, subdomains are often used to reduce confusion, Maintain a core brand onlineand reduce costs (because a new domain name costs money).
For example, a small business might have an employee dashboard that you manage with a third-party software service, but they might also have the main site Run with WordPress on their server. They may also have an item store that they own Run with Shopify.
All three resources must live under the company’s domain name, but they all live in different places. They will have to prepare:
- employee. natecompany.com Employee control panel
- www.natecompany.com – Basic site using WordPress
- store.natecompany.com – Ecommerce store using Shopify
Sub domain vs root domain
So what is the difference between a subdomain and a domain name? The short version is that a subdomain needs a domain name to operate, but a domain name doesn’t need a subdomain to exist.
A domain name is an essential part of you and your brand on the Internet. Subdomain is more of a technical solution. In fact, you don’t really need the default ‘www’ subdomain.
As far as using a subdomain versus a domain is often just a matter of preference. Some companies prefer to have separate projects over completely separate domain names. Some companies like to have a nice system of sub-domains.
Subdomains can create some technical issues (eg tracking across subdomains, security certificates, etc.), but they also solve and simplify other problems.
Usually the preference is to subdivide and organize the structure of the site.
Subdomain vs subdirectory
A subdomain is a different domain under the root domain. appears before the root domain in the URL (eg, subdomain.domain.com). A subdirectory is a place on the server where certain files are located. appears after the top-level domain in the URL (domain.com/subdirectory/).
In analogy, imagine your website as filing cabinets (remember them?). The subdomain will be different cabinets while the subdirectory will be a folder within a cabinet.
Now, there is an ongoing and complex debate about whether it is better to use a sub-directory or sub-domain for premium sections, campaigns, or microsites.
For example, if you have a website in Spanish and English, is it better to use it es.yoursite.com & en.yoursite.com or yoursite.com/es/ & yoursite.com/en/?
Or, if you have a Blog using WordPress (and the rest of your site uses drupal), is it better to use it blog.yoursite.com or yoursite.com/blog/?
The not-so-helpful short version is that it depends on what software you’re using, your plans, your marketing strategy, and what your technical skills are.
Now, based on my experience as a marketer with a focus on organic traffic & AnalyticsI say that unless you have a specific and consistent reason for using a subdomain, you should always use a subdirectory by default.
Why? because Occam’s Razor – The problem-solving principle that states that “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily” or that the simplest solution is most likely to be the correct one.
Implementing subdomains may seem easier at first without planning, but they introduce a lot of complexity up front and forever into the future.
For languages, e-commerce, SEO, analytics, development, security, etc – it’s always better to maintain a single website.
The one caveat where subdomains usually win are online programs that you want to associate with your domain…but not your website. Customer portals, some forums, and any internal uses work best with subdomains because subdomains inherently separate this functionality from the rest of your website.
Maybe you’re constantly flipping through subdomains and not even realizing it. But here are a few diverse examples of websites that implement subdomains well.
Wikipedia is a heavy user of subdomains. They have subdomains for each language and subdomains for the mobile versions.
Disney is probably one of the oldest brands that used a subdomain of go.com domain and began to be used by Disney in 1995 as a portal site on the Internet. All Disney trademarks live under the go.com domain name.
For example, the Walt Disney World Resort subdomain is disneyworld.disney.go.com. Disneyland is: disneyland.disney.go.com
Disney is very good at branding and using separate subdomains for each brand.
In case you were wondering how Google treats subdomains as if they were separate domain names. So actually with SEO you can isolate your brands for a big conglomerate.
NPR is a radio network, first and foremost. their main domain NPR.org You must focus 100% on member stations, news and content. But they also have merchandise they’d like to sell on their domain to serious fans. Drupal custom setup runs their own content site, but they Use Shopify to their store. This setup is an excellent example of using a subdomain.
Apple, one of the most popular companies in the world, separates its customer portal from the main part of its website. Use the subdomain support.apple.com Makes it easy to remember where to get help.
Apple includes articles on the Knowledge Base, and how to get support at local Apple Stores.
How to create a subdomain
Let’s say a subdomain works for you. How do you actually do it?
You are already supposed to Domain name bought. You must do this before you can set up a subdomain.
To create a subdomain, you need to go wherever you want Direct DNS records (It may not be where you registered your domain). If you have Hosting company separate from your domain registrarit is likely that you will go to your hosting company.
If you have web hosting companyThen you will be taken to your cPanel and/or Account Dashboard. There will probably be a shortcut called “Subdomains” where you can select your domain and add your subdomain. You will need to name it, and then tell it where the program is located on your server.
This is a screenshot from InMotion Hosting subdomain area.
Now, this path is simple if both sites are going to live on the same server. If your websites are located elsewhere, you will most likely need to modify the DNS records directly. To do this, find the place where you can edit the Region Records. Again, here’s a screenshot from my account at InMotion Hosting.
You will notice that there will be many records already there. You will need to add a “Register” based on the software instructions from your software provider. Usually, this will involve setting up an A record and a CNAME record. It usually depends on the exact setup of your software.
Subdomains are useful, but parts of the web are often misunderstood. It can be a cost-effective and versatile way to get the most out of your domain name, but it can also be an incomplete and complex solution to common website setup problems.
Either way, make sure you understand the tradeoffs and trade-offs involved in setting up your subdomain.